I don’t think anybody saw this coming. Sheffield’s biggest ever development project – a £1.5bn plan to develop the area around Sheffield Railway Station, dwarfing the £480m Heart of the City II scheme.
The plan is to maximise the economic potential of the area and make the most of HS2, and will now go out for public consultation.
The idea stems from plans for HS2 trains to stop at Sheffield Station on a loop off the mainline which were recently given the green light by the government.
Sheffield City Council would co-ordinate the project, with funding coming from several organisations including the city council, HS2, SYPTE, Transport for the North, Network Rail, Sheffield City Region and the Department for Transport. The bulk of the costs – up to £1bn – would be from the private sector, which would build offices, restaurants, bars and potentially a hotel.
The project would see the closure of Park Square roundabout and Sheaf Street – the dual carriageway that runs in front of the station – would swap places with the tram route that runs behind.
A huge, landscaped pedestrian bridge would link Park Hill with Howard Street and the multi-storey car park on Turner Street would be demolished and moved further away.
It would be replaced by an office block – one of up to 12 planned in the ‘Sheffield Valley’ zone, including four outside the station, employing up to 3,000 people.
Up to 1,000 homes – flats and houses – could also be built.
The new tram route would run from Fitzalan Square, along Pond Street, stop outside the station and continue along Suffolk Road to Granville Square.
The bus station on Pond Street would be reduced in size to make room for the tram tracks and offices on stilts potentially built on top.
Park Square roundabout and Sheaf Street would become a park and link into the Grey to Green scheme at Victoria Quays, Castlegate and West Bar.
Under the plans the ‘Q park’ would move to the Wren-DFS site on nearby St Mary’s Road.
There would be a new, sheltered, taxi rank next to the station, but the taxi ‘stacking’ area would be moved ‘slightly further out’ improving access for drop-offs and people with mobility needs.
The area between St Mary’s Road, Queens Road and Sheaf Gardens, currently home to businesses including a Pure Gym, would be a new residential centre for up to 700 homes, with a further 300 spread throughout the area.
In 1964, the Belfast Telegraph reported on a proposed new housing development at Cullingtree Road in the Northern Ireland city. The multi-storey flats were going to be based on Park Hill in Sheffield, a radical ‘streets in the sky’ development, completed in 1961.
The newspaper sent a reporter to Sheffield and was invited to look inside several flats. His observations make fascinating reading now, presenting a time when people were adjusting to dwellings far removed from the slum housing they’d left behind.
What soon became clear, was that people living at Park Hill were living a simple existence.
“Free from the ‘lure’ of consumer goods, the older people in these flats seem to have disposed of most of their surplus possessions before moving in; the younger ones have not yet started seriously collecting them.
“There were few books or magazines in the living rooms, and I can’t remember seeing a single piece of hi-fi equipment.”
However, the reporter had an eye on the future and forecast that younger residents would soon fill up the flats.
“They will soon need record players, tape recorders, cine cameras, sports equipment, and their own books, records, musical instruments, typewriters and transistor radios.”
And the reporter lamented a lack of storage space.
“Half a century ago, cleaning was done with a dust-pan and brush. Today, 76 per cent of all households uses a vacuum cleaner, and this needs special storage.”
The arrangement of the living areas struck a curious mind.
“Who, fifty years ago, would have forecast that by 1964 practically every household in the country would have a television set? It alters the arrangement of most living rooms – competing with the fireplace as the focus of interest.
“It might be reasonable to suppose that by 1984 the traditional type of house or flat with box-like rooms will be completely inadequate to the needs of the average household.
“By then, it is likely that many flats will be built as shells containing the floors and staircases with traditional internal walls around the bathroom and WC only. The remaining area, which will be used for the kitchen, sitting and living areas and bedrooms, will be left clear to be divided by the occupier.”
Finally, the reporter noted rows of parked cars outside.
“When the flats were designed and built nobody imagined a time when people who lived in them would own one, or even two cars. Consequently, no garages were built.”
In the end, financial concerns meant the proposed model in Belfast didn’t proceed with only a fraction being built.
Constructed in the mid-sixties, the Divis Complex, consisted of Divis Tower and 12 eight-storey terraces and flats, all named after the nearby Divis Mountain.
The photograph is by Live Projects, a pioneering educational initiative introduced by the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield, which in 1999 restored a flat on Gilbert Row, at Park Hill, installing retro fittings and furniture.
If one man can be held responsible for defining Sheffield’s skyline, then it must be John Lewis Womersley (1909-1989), the City Architect between 1953 and 1964.
During his term, Sheffield’s housing grew upwards with multi-storey flats constructed at Low Edges, Park Hill, Hyde Park, Netherthorpe and Woodside. It was Womersley’s response to 13,000 families on the council’s waiting list and 10,000 condemned properties waiting to be demolished.
Womersley had previously been Borough Architect in Northampton, where he was responsible for the town’s first ten-storey block. In Sheffield, he presented an uncompromising vision of the future, one shared by the Labour council.
According to Ivan Morris, who worked in Sheffield City Council’s planning department until 1979, Womersley was “A blunt no-nonsense Yorkshireman with a burning desire to maintain quality of life by achieving high standards in his work.”
In his eleven years, Sheffield was a hive of building activity, his record perhaps stained by today’s social problems in surviving tower blocks.
“Time and hindsight must not be allowed to judge too harshly the mark that Lewis Womersley left on the city,” said Morris in 1989. “For he gave his whole-hearted efforts unstintingly against economic restraints.
“Certainly, those who remembered the sordid and degrading conditions of the overcrowded back-to-back slums had cause for acknowledgement.”
His most famous legacy must be Park Hill, the “streets in the sky” claiming international recognition for Sheffield but dividing opinion across the city.
It is now Grade II* listed, the subject of a £100million refurbishment into upmarket apartments, business units and social housing (even though it seems to be taking an age to complete).
“Park Hill was certainly something of a masterpiece and is still relatively popular,” said one of his successors, Andrew Beard, over thirty years ago. “But with Hyde Park I feel he pushed the concept further than it was capable of going.”
And another of his projects, the Gleadless Valley estate, a mix of urban housing and landscape, described as “Mediterranean in appearance” when it was built between 1955 and 1962, might now be past its best.
But was that the fault of the architect, or simply under-investment in maintaining it properly?
Most pronounced in housing, his work also extended to public buildings – schools, colleges, bus garages, fire stations and libraries. Amongst these we must mention Granville College and Castle Market, both demolished, but the former West Bar Police Station survives as the Hampton by Hilton Hotel.
Awarded a CBE in 1962, Womersley left Sheffield two years later, joining the Leslie Hugh Wilson partnership in Manchester, and finally retiring in 1978.
Almost £20million in funding has been secured to bring forward the latest phase of the redevelopment of Sheffield’s Park Hill Estate.
Joint venture (JV) partners Urban Splash and Places for People have agreed a £19.9million, two-year funding deal with Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking Real Estate and Housing.
The development finance agreement will support Phase 2 of the development, which is set to come to market in the spring.
This phase will comprise 195 homes, including one-, two- and tree-bedroom flats and two-bedroom townhouses retaining the duplex and double aspect layout with balconies. It will also feature 20,000s sq ft of mixed-use commercial space with the potential for offices and workspaces, as well as a new café or restaurant and terrace.
Contractors are currently on site with completion of the project due in 2021.
Work on Phase 3 of the Park Hill development is also underway. A 356-bed student accommodation building is being developed by Alumno Developments and is due to be occupied in September 2020.
Phase 4, comprising a new S1Artspace alongside further residential units, has also been approved.
Park Hill, located on a hill above the city’s railway station, is one of the Sheffield’s best-known landmarks.
The property was built in 1961 and was one of the first Brutalist buildings in the UK. It was awarded Grade II*-listed status in 1998.
The estate has been the subject of several TV documentaries and a musical, Standing at the Sky’s Edge.
Next year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Park Hill flats, a remarkable milestone for a series of buildings that people in Sheffield either love or hate. The fact that Park Hill is still standing is perhaps even more significant.
Visitors to Sheffield cannot fail to notice them, a massive cliff which rises steep and high to the east behind Sheffield Railway Station.
Sheffield had wanted to extend its boundaries in 1951 and was unable to do so. To continue slum clearance, and unable to extend spreading suburban estates, the council looked at flats on restricted sites near the city centre.
Park Hill was the idea of John Lewis Womersley (1909-1989), the City Architect between 1953 and 1964. He looked at the Park district, once nicknamed “Little Chicago” during the gang wars of the twenties, where swathes of housing had been demolished in the 1930s.
Womersley engaged Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith, two young architects who’d met in London, both exploring the concepts of long slabs, inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation in Marseilles in 1951.
Initially recruited to begin a scheme at Norfolk Park, Womersley gave them Park Hill and Hyde Park to work on instead, assisted by Frederick Nicklin.
The go ahead was given in 1955, work commencing in 1957 and completed in 1961. The result was four blocks, varying in height from four storeys at the south, and to fourteen at the north, the slope allowing the roof-line to remain level.
Park Hill’s architecture was defined as “Brutalist,” an expression created in Sweden in 1950 by Hans Asplund, son of the architect Gunnar Asplund, after which the idea was taken up fervently by a generation of architects and critics, the most vociferous being Peter and Alison Smithson and Raynor Banham, and adopted by the likes of young Lynn and Smith.
“The moral crusade of Brutalism for a better habitat through built environment probably reaches its culmination at Park Hill,” said Banham.
The layout was designed with fragmentary polygons, linked by bridges of 135 and 112 degrees, to enable the 10ft wide access decks on every third floor to shift from side to side so each got the sun. The blocks were arranged to create courts within which a primary and nursery school were eventually built, together with playgrounds. These were originally furnished with furniture by abstract sculptor, John Forrester, who also advised on the modelling and colouring of the facades on the blocks, street lighting and footpaths.
In total, there were 994 dwellings for 3,448 persons (high density housing at 193 persons per acre), in a mixture of one-two bedroom flats and two-four bedroom maisonettes. Each flat was initially provided with a Garchey waste system, with units below the kitchen sink, at the time a new idea only seen at Quarry Hill in Leeds and Spa Green at Clerkenwell.
Park Hill was officially opened by Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party, a not unsurprising choice considering that Sheffield’s Labour council had been an advocate of Womersley’s radical vision of a “new” city. After all, when it was built there were 13,000 families on the council waiting list and 10,000 condemned properties waiting to be demolished.
Almost immediately, Park Hill flats were greeted as “a Modernist icon.”
Keen to retain the community feeling of these old streets, Park Hill’s interlinking corridors was the answer to those people who felt isolated in an ordinary multi-storey block, every front door creating an illusion of stepping out into the street.
In “Ten Years of Housing in Sheffield,” published by Sheffield Corporation’s housing development committee, the intention at Park Hill was explained: –
“At Park Hill, in place of the 4ft wide balconies serving each floor, promenade decks 10ft wide and open to the air, are provided in every third floor within the main building mass. As the buildings are in a continuous ‘slab’ form there is thus a complete system of circulation around the whole site, the highest deck being on the storey below the top.
“The front doors to the dwellings open from the decks… which… fulfil the function of ‘Streets’ within the building, along which prams can be pushed, and milk trolleys driven.
“Being covered from the weather and free from normal vehicular traffic, they form ideal places for daily social contact. The decks are, in fact, extensions of the dwellings so far as both children and adults are concerned. The child’s earliest play needs are in general catered for inside the flat… later, the decks extend his range on a level with his front door. Later still, he can use the various play areas at ground level.”
It was a romantic dream.
“When they were first built the environment was beautiful and there was a great community spirit because so many of the people on the old Park estate came back to live in the flats,” said resident Harold Fairbrother, in 1989.
But, Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, had early reservations.
“There can alas be no doubt that such a vast scheme of closely-set high blocks of flats will be a slum in half or century or less.”
Pevsner’s prophecy turned out to be accurate and by the 1980s the vision had turned sour.
Roy Hattersley had been chairman of Sheffield City Council’s public works committee when Park Hill was built. When the flats were first considered for listing by English Heritage in 1996, he was thoughtful with his comments.
“Living cheek by jowl was not the risk as it is today. Aerosol sprays had barely been invented and there was little graffiti on the walls. Packs of youths did not stalk the galleries late at night. The occasional drunk urinated in the lift, but they were not systematically vandalised out of operation.
“Park Hill was built to meet the needs of the people. If it no longer achieves that aim, it should be demolished.”
As it happens, Park Hill was given a Grade II* listing in 1998, effectively eradicating talk of demolition, and making it Britain’s largest listed building until superseded by The Barbican in London.
A caretaker at Park Hill summed up the state of affairs in a television documentary at the time. “She is an old lady fallen on hard times.”
In 2004, Urban Splash won the contract to revive the decayed estate, turning the flats into upmarket apartments, business units and social housing. Two blocks (including the North Block, the tallest part of the buildings) were initially cleared, leaving only their concrete shell. Due to start in 2007, Phase 1 was put on hold due to the recession, eventually starting in 2009 and open to residents in 2010-2011.
With over £100million spent so far, Phases 2 and 3 are now underway, with Phase 4, comprising a new S1Artspace alongside further residential units, already approved.